Under Armour to Partner With Kohl’s in Push to Become Mainstream

Under Armour Inc. is expanding its reach through a partnership with Kohl’s Corp. Kohl’s will sell the brand’s apparel, accessories and footwear at all of its more than 1,100 stores across the U.S. starting March 1, the company said. Under Armour is also testing its HealthBox fitness tracker at the retailer.

The partnership -- more than two years in the making -- gives Under Armour greater access to the suburban, middle-class consumers with whom the brand already is popular. For Kohl’s, the deal expands its selection of national brands and bolsters its efforts to become a destination for athletic apparel, said Michelle Gass, the chain’s chief merchandising and customer officer. While the retailer has been struggling to boost clothing sales, one category that is seeing consistent demand is activewear and accessories, which grew 15 percent at Kohl’s last year, Gass said.

“We shared our conviction and our strategy that we intend to be the destination for active and wellness for the family, and I guess they were inspired by that because we’re launching,” Gass said in an interview. “Active was one of those areas where we’re already seeing strength with Nike and some others, and we said, ‘Let’s take it to the next level.”’

image: Under Armour

Greatness Agenda

The deal is part of Kohl’s turnaround initiative, the Greatness Agenda, launched in 2014. Part of the plan is to make a significant investment in the active and wellness category with new partnerships with major brands. The efforts seem to be paying off: The category represents 15 percent of Kohl’s overall business at about $3 billion, Gass said.

Under Armour has trying to expand its reach beyond traditional sporting-goods stores. The company entered Macy’s locations in 2012 and last month added a designer to roll out a sports fashion collection. Currently, the brand is in roughly 11,000 stores across North America, less than half of Nike’s 24,000.

“As we look at our brand and mature and evolve, we believe there’s a customer that shops primarily at Kohl’s and is passing on our brand because it”s unavailable,” Matt Mirchin, Under Armour’s president for North America, said in an interview.

Wooing Women

Kohl’s customers are primarily women who are there to shop for themselves as well as their families, which could be a boost for the Baltimore-based brand looking to expand its women’s business and gain ground against major competitors like Nike Inc. The retailer surveyed its customers to gauge interest in Under Armour, and the response was “overwhelmingly positive,” Gass said. In fact, more than 400,000 people searched for Under Armour on the Kohl’s website in the last year.

Most of those customers, loyal to Kohl’s, probably bought a competitor’s product instead, Mirchin said. Kohl’s customers also shop more frequently at the store -- about 18 times a year for loyal consumers -- while people only visit sporting-goods stores a few times a year, he said. “It’s very clear the Kohl’s customers want Under Armour,” Gass said.

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